A safe alternative to smoking cigarettes with all the same head-rush-inducing, nicotine pleasure — that is the idea behind e-cigarettes, which have quickly gained popularity in recent years among young adults, college students and even teenagers. But is it all too good to be true?
An NYU School of Medicine’s study, lead by Dr. Moon-Shong Tang, a professor at the Department of Environmental Medicine and Pathology, found evidence to suggest a link between e-cigarette smoking and increased risk of heart disease and cancer. According to the researchers, these risks may also apply to second hand smoke.
The study exposed laboratory mice to electronic cigarette vapor for 12 weeks. The dose and duration of nicotine exposure in the study, however, was equivalent to 10 years of light e-cigarette smoking in humans. The researchers used their tests to conclude that e-cigarettes can cause DNA damage and may reduce repair activity in the lungs, bladder and heart — all of which could increase the risk of cancer and heart diseases in smoker.
Rapid increases in e-cigarette smoking sparked the researchers’ interests in the subject. “Eighteen million people are smoking e-cigarettes, particularly young people,” Tang said. “It’s a new culture.”
When asked why more young people are turning to e-cigarettes,Tang pointed to social norms and a desire to fit in.
Because there is no solid evidence that proves nicotine is a carcinogenic substance, e-cigarettes have been promoted as a cancer safe option, leading many to take up the habit.
“For us, it’s unambiguous,” Tang said. “The only thing I can conclude is that vaping is harmful, not only to yourself but to bystanders as well, […] because it has the same effect as smoking, maybe less but they also breathe nicotine.”
Dr. Hyun-Wook Lee, an associate research scientist of Tang Lab at NYU Environmental Medicine, said the team is exploring the effects of aldehyde, a carcinogen substance present in e-cigarette vaping.
“Surprisingly, these aldehydes can all [be] involved in gene damage from the occasional smoking or e-cigarette smoking,” Lee said.
In order to expand the study, Tang and his team also work on clinical samples, and the main focus is on the two causes of lung cancer and blood cancer.
“These [samples] are from the patients’ tissues,” Lee said. “We have some very promising results about the stages.”
Even though Tang believes there is sufficient evidence for scientists to conclude e-cigarettes have carcinogenic risks, he said it would take another decade or so for it to be publicly adopted.
Email Mariana Castro and Christine Lee at [email protected]